Jelly Belly Essay

In a poignant new video, online performance artist Ze Frank physically illustrates how most people spend the majority of their life using jelly beans to delineate time.

Starting with 28,835 beans representing days of the average human lifespan he slowly subtracts the time spent sleeping, working, eating, and commuting to arrive at a much smaller square by proportion that represents our “free” time that suddenly puts things in stark perspective.

Even the buttered popcorn flavor (loved by many, hated by many), was the result of his tinkering in the lab with corn, butter, and salt flavors, just to see what he could come up with. To those in the business of building flavors, memories of tastes and scents can be especially poignant.

Brasher, who grew up eating pomegranates on a family farm, sent early pomegranate beans back to the kitchen because they lacked the distinctive tartness.

Occasionally, the scientists' success overtakes them, as when an experimental four-cheese pizza bean managed to empty a whole mixing room with its noxious smell.

But even disasters can redeem themselves: with the release of the company's Beanboozled novelty line, cheese pizza, with a few tweaks, became barf. Even with all his technical skill, Lee acknowledges, he sometimes finds that human taste buds are the most sensitive detectors of flavor: "They can pick up it when something is missing," he says.

The taste must be instantly recognizable, says Lisa Brasher, a fifth-generation member of the founding family and executive vice chairman of the board. When you say 'potato chip,' do you mean regular or barbecue?

Those are very important questions for us." Thus, the food scientists and marketers taste-test extensively to find what sort of pickle is most pickle-y, whether Bartlett or D'Anjou screams "pear" loudest, and which specific combination of spices, dairy notes, and pumpkin puree sends you straight back to your grandma's pie.

At tasting parties, with the bean in one hand and the real deal in the other, food scientists, marketers, and executives silently rate the fidelity of the flavor.

They hold up signs with numbers, and if the overall rating is not an 8, 9, or 10, the flavor doesn't pass on to the next stage of development, Brasher says.


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